The Rhythm of a Work Week: The Pattern of Our Most and Least Productive Times
I always discover the patterns in life, the natural rhythms that underlie the way we humans go about business. I started working as a carpenter’s helper at a construction company a year ago last week. It marked the first time I had a regular Monday through Friday job. Every day, I arrive at the office by 7:30 AM and I take off for home again at 4 PM. I hold my weekends entirely to myself. After years of working retail jobs with ever changing schedules or military deployments where I always felt on-call, I found the routine refreshing, even in spite of the early wakeup.
Within my first month, I noticed the Curse of the Thursdays. Other days of the week had their ups and downs, but Thursdays always felt awful. They dragged on forever and never failed to drain me of my last scrap of energy. I became convinced that Thursday had it in for me. Only Thursdays forced me to move half a ton of gravel across a parking lot with a wheelbarrow and shovel. Only Thursdays required me to dig three feet deep in search of water pipes and missing cables.
As my rationality prevailed, I quickly realized that Thursday held no supernatural sway over the work week. Rather, it lay at the convergence of peculiar mental and physical realities. By that fourth day of the week I had spent all of the wonderful stored energy of the weekend, but it lacked the emotional and mental pop of Friday. By Thursday, I feel exhausted, but I know I still have eight to sixteen hours of hard labor to go.
I soon noticed that each day of the week fell within certain mental/emotional and physical parameters and the way they effected the productivity I could expect from each day of the week.
Physical: Completely Fresh
Despite typically possessing more energy than I will have all week, I have come to not expect miracles from Monday. I’m just not awake enough. On this first day, I try to shake the frivolities of the weekend from my head and refocus on work. I have to remember and relearn all the short cuts for the jobs left unfinished on Friday. Monday feels like starting a cold engine: full of whines and groans until everything gets warmed up again.
Mental/Emotional: On Point
Barring unforeseen setbacks, Tuesday always results in the most productivity. I have shaken the cobwebs of Monday and found the melody of the work once again. I still possess more than enough energy to perform all of the tasks set before me. Tuesday can result in a very satisfying work day.
Mental/Emotional: Lagging Morning, Afternoon Boost
By Wednesday, it becomes harder to get out of bed. My body lacks the perfect resiliency that it held earlier in the week. While I start to feel more knocks and bruises, my physical state hasn’t yet intruded upon my mental and emotional well-being. Wednesday morning has a slight sluggishness to it as I try to shake off the accumulating rust, but Wednesday afternoon provides a great jolt of mental energy to the system. During lunch, I realize that the work week has reached its half-way point and I begin to anticipate the approaching weekend.
Physical: On Empty
As I mentioned before, Thursdays can have a hellish bent. Thursday is the great tease of the work week. It frustrates me because I can feel the closeness of the weekend, but, like the carrot on the stick, it never gets any closer. I also get frustrated because my body quits answering my commands. Tasks that I pull of with ease on Monday become a tangled mess of limbs and fingers on Thursday. On some Thursdays, I feel like it I would get more done if I just stayed in bed.
Physical: Bumbling Mess
On Friday, my mind takes over and I have small bursts of invincibility. With the weekend so close, I no longer feel the need to hold anything back. I just want to finish as much as possible and put and exclamation point on the work week. However, as one of my older co-workers likes to point out, that enthusiasm also makes Friday the most dangerous day of the work week. My mind and heart might try to write checks that my flagging body can no longer cash. If my focus starts to wander towards the approaching time off, I risk losing focus on a table saw, a scaffold, even a simple hammer. On Friday, I must remind myself not to do anything stupid.
In addition to the rhythm of the week, each day has its own ebb and flow. Not all hours of the work day are created equal.
These two hours seem to go by relatively quickly for a variety of reasons. The first two hours of the day tend to mimic the obliviousness of Monday as I try to wake up and remember what I started the day before. Also, the start of the day gets broken up with the business of preparation. I arrive at the shop. I get my assignment. I take out the trash. I load up my truck. I help my co-workers load up their trucks. I drive to the job site. We might even make a detour to a side job before we get the main site. The constant interaction keeps me from getting bored. I don’t have the time to look at my watch. Those first two ours might not feel very productive towards our ultimate goals, but they are vital towards our general success.
Welcome to the slowest, most mind-numbing portion of the day. The rush of preparation has worn off but the team hasn’t truly hit its rhythm for the day. I finally wake up, but I get cranky because the sun still sits low in the sky and lunch still seems so far away. These hours are furthest from the start, furthest from the finish, and furthest from lunch. I check my watch a dozen times, but the clock never moves. I start feeling just as sluggish and productivity lags.
We tend to eat lunch from noon to 12:30. The half hour before and after spark my energy as I anticipate the coming break and then pep up from the sugar rush Productivity varies, but the mental boost sets up the whole afternoon.
I find this the most productive portion of the day. We tend to work out the kinks of our process in the morning and hit our stride in the afternoon. By this time of the day, everyone knows their role and how best to accomplish it. The second half of our work day is also shorter than the first. Mentally, it feels like much less of a challenge to stretch from lunch to quitting time. The end of the day draws nigh and that motivates me to give everything I have left.
Our main project goals tend to slow down around three as we begin to transition into the clean-up phase in preparation for the end of the day. I always remain very productive and alert during this time, but necessity forces me towards ancillary tasks.
With an understanding of both the weekly and daily rhythm, I can locate the most and least productive moments of the work week and plan accordingly. The most productive moment of the week should likely occur between one and three on Tuesday afternoon. The least productive moment will likely fall between 9:30 and 11:30 on a Thursday morning. If I had management responsibilities, I could take such information and try to organize tasks that play to the strengths of the best times of the week and minimize the shortcoming of the worst periods.